by Justin Standfield
In today’s world, we often hear about different awareness days being celebrated throughout the year; it can surely only be a positive thing that awareness continues to be raised about a diverse range of issues. However, one day that tends to go unnoticed is International Men’s Day (IMD). This annual event, celebrated on 19 November, aims to raise awareness about men’s issues and celebrate the positive contributions that men and boys make to society.
The title of this blog article is: “Why do we need an International Men’s Day anyway?”. This was a question I was asked earlier this week on a training course I was running. Only one person in the group of 12 participants even knew that International Men’s Day is a thing. When I mentioned that it’s approaching at the weekend, one person said, “Oh come on, surely every day is men’s day” and another said “What about the patriarchy?”. When I explained about the aims of international men’s day in response to this, I was careful to be clear that it isn’t about competing with International Women’s Day; I believe the two important events can coexist.
As I write this, I can immediately think of several men I know who’ve told me that they’ve found themselves ensnared by the pressures of societal stereotypes at times, bending to fit the mould of what society believes a man ought to be. For example, I was brought up in the 1970s/80s with a very strong message of “Boys Don’t Cry” from my parents, which was perpetuated through education and wider society. For years, I absorbed the teaching that if you don’t feel good or you’re struggling, whatever you do don’t let on to others and do your best to keep it hidden (like a distorted version of Keep Calm & Carry On). I know that I’m not alone in this unhelpful experience in my formative years and beyond. This notion significantly contributes to the alarming fact presented by the World Health Organisation (WHO), that suicide is the primary cause of death among men under the age of 45. It’s also linked with the academic struggles observed in boys and the disproportionate number of men in prison.
I’d contend that it’s more challenging for us men to reveal vulnerability – yes, even in 2023 – because it deviates from the expected masculine roles that still appear on social media, in advertising and in films and TV. While International Women’s Day advocates for women’s achievements in combating sexism, International Men’s Day could be an occasion to honour men who are defying and challenging these stereotypes. Men have the right to be parents, they endure domestic abuse, and they have mental health needs that often go unaddressed. We experience loneliness and vulnerability just as intensely, but are much less likely to acknowledge it and seek assistance when these things become problematic.
International Men’s Day is designed to facilitate dialogue, dismantle harmful masculine norms and remind all of us that men have the freedom to define their identity, and not be subjected to predefined stereotypes.
While gender equality has quite rightly been an important topic of discussion for years, it’s crucial to acknowledge that both genders face obstacles that need to be addressed. Therefore, in response to the question, “Why do we need International Men’s Day?”, I’d say that it serves as a platform to highlight the unique challenges faced by men and boys in our society. I’ll summarise five of the key challenges and how IMD aims to address them.
Men’s health is an important focus of IMD. This includes raising awareness about physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s essential to encourage men to prioritise their health and seek help when needed – assorted pieces of research tell us that men traditionally don’t visit their GP early enough (if at all). By promoting open conversations about men’s health issues, we can work towards breaking down stigmas and providing support to those who need it.
Empowering boys and young men is another important aspect of IMD. It promotes the idea of fostering confidence, self-esteem and resilience in young boys, enabling them to navigate through life’s challenges successfully. By providing support and resources, we can help shape the next generation of strong and compassionate men.
IMD highlights the importance of nurturing healthy and positive relationships among men. It encourages open communication, respect and empathy in all types of relationships, whether it be friendships, romantic partnerships or family bonds. By promoting healthy relationships, we can help create a more harmonious society for everyone.
Another important aspect of IMD is promoting positive masculinity. It encourages men to redefine old-fashioned, traditional notions of masculinity and seek healthier ways of expressing their emotions. By encouraging emotional intelligence, empathy and vulnerability, we can foster healthier relationships and create a society where all individuals can thrive.
IMD also emphasises the importance of mentoring and support for boys and young men. It encourages men to serve as mentors and role models, providing guidance and support to those who may be facing challenges or lack positive male influences in their lives. From fathers and mentors to entrepreneurs and community leaders, male role models play a key positive role in shaping the world around us. By offering mentorship and support, we can help empower the next generation to reach their full potential.
You can find out more about IMD on the campaign’s UK website, which has useful guides and resources on the topic of men’s and boys’ health and wellbeing, as well as links to partner organisations doing great work in this area all year round.